Ethos Ho, BSc Pharm Candidate
A Small Fantastic Point of View
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “good things come in small packages”; a reminder of how we should not underestimate the value of something based on its size. This phrase is the underlying idea behind the use of nanotechnology to address two common issues that we face with medications today:1
- Poor drug delivery: reduces the amount of medication that reaches its desired target
- Unnecessary exposure in unwanted areas: leads to unintentional side effects
Some of you may think that these issues have never applied to you before. To get a better grasp, let’s take a look at this scenario.
Imagine, late at night, grabbing a bottle of Advil® to relieve a headache, and taking it on an empty stomach. Your headache goes away, but you notice a mild, burning discomfort in your stomach that wasn’t there before. What you don’t see is that after taking Advil,® the medication releases into your bloodstream. But, of all the medication, only a small portion reaches the brain to perform its desired effect; relieve pain. What’s left will continue to circulate and act on “unintended” targets in the body causing side effects – in this case, stomach upset. This is only a general example, but applies to practically all medications.
Delivering the Cargo with No Specified Destination
As seen in the scenario above, side effects are results of “non-specific” actions of medications. Whenever a drug enters the bloodstream, the circulatory system acts like a freight train for delivering goods to a final destination. However, due to the lack of selectivity, only some of the drug reaches its intended target, while the rest “gets off” at different “stops.” Not only can this cause side effects, but it means that less of the medication is actually doing its job. Therefore, nanomedicine has two main goals: improve the effectiveness of medications and minimize side effects.
How Does Nanomedicine Work?
Nanomedicine involves the creation and application of materials that are microscopic in size. These nanometer-sized structures are usually made from fats and proteins, as they’re less toxic and can pass into different compartments of our body.2,3 The fat acts as a vehicle, a nanocarrier, for the drug, enclosing it from the outside. Proteins, which are placed onto the surface of the nanocarrier, act like keys allowing better access to the drug destination.3 This way, the nanocarrier can deliver the drug and release it only once its reached its target, improving effectiveness and safety.3
Now, let’s explore the potential applications and benefits of nanomedicine.
Application of Nanomedicine and Implications for the Future
Nanomedicine has been shown to have significant potential in the area of cancer. Chemotherapy drugs are infamous for being highly toxic and causing unpleasant side effects, including nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. These effects are often due to the drugs attacking both cancerous and normal body cells. By using nanocarriers, chemotherapy drug could selectively fight off cancer while sparing healthy cells, therefore improving cure rates without causing the individual to suffer.3,4 Also, the design of nanocarriers can allow for easier transport of drugs into the brain, which is normally a very difficult area for medications to reach.3,4
Besides cancer therapy, nanotechnology can be incorporated with many drugs currently on the market. If widespread adoption of this technology occurs, patients will be able to take medications less often, experience fewer side-effects, and save more money.
The Bottom Line
Nanomedicine is a new and growing science that may drastically improve both the benefits and safety of medications – notably in the area of cancer, but potentially in all areas of health. The potential for nanotechnology to improve medications is unimaginable, and is a promising area to watch out for in the near future.
As always, we hope you took away something valuable from this piece. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this article or others, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, Facebook, or at email@example.com with your feedback. We’d love to hear from you.
- What is Nanomedicine? : Center for Nanomedicine. (2018). Cnm-hopkins.org. Retrieved 11 April 2018, from https://cnm-hopkins.org/what-is-nanomedicine/
- Keles, E., Song, Y., Du, D., Dong, W., & Lin, Y. (2016). Recent progress in nanomaterials for gene delivery applications. Biomaterials Science, 4(9), 1291-1309. http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/c6bm00441e
- Kebebe, D., Liu, Y., Wu, Y., Vilakhamxay, M., Liu, Z., & Li, J. (2018). Tumor-targeting delivery of herb-based drugs with cell-penetrating/tumor-targeting peptide-modified nanocarriers. International Journal Of Nanomedicine, Volume 13, 1425-1442. http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/ijn.s156616
- Wang, S., Meng, Y., Li, C., Qian, M., & Huang, R. (2015). Receptor-Mediated Drug Delivery Systems Targeting to Glioma. Nanomaterials, 6(1), 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/nano6010003